Oswego School Board passes $209 million budget
By Jenette STurges firstname.lastname@example.org September 24, 2013 9:30PM
Updated: October 28, 2013 6:52AM
Oswego 308 School District residents will pay a little more in taxes next year, but they won’t be footing the whole bill for the district’s budget increase.
The Oswego 308 School Board passed a budget for the 2012-13 school year this week. The $209 million budget includes a $9.6 million increase over last year, but the majority of that increase will come from the state rather than local property taxes, according to Superintendent Matthew Wendt.
Wendt said that 81 percent, or about $7.8 million, of the budget increase is the direct result of more per-pupil funding from the state of Illinois because more students have moved into the district.
The remaining $1.8 million increase will be footed by local taxpayers, he said.
“The budget you’re being asked to approve certainly represents an increase to local taxes. That’s a fact,” Wendt said. “I understand that people are frustrated and that they might even be angry. I would ask for leniency and patience. I don’t believe we can turn the ship around in 15 months... I would hope you are feeling that we are headed in the right direction.”
In presenting the budget, Wendt also asked school board members and residents to in part direct their anger at the state for pro-rating payments to school districts cutting $5.3 million in General State Aid to the Oswego School District.
The biggest factor in figuring the district’s current budget is not the dollars paying for teachers or books, but for debt. The district had more than $417 million in outstanding debt as of June 2013, according to a budget summary posted for the board’s consideration.
This year, the school district will repay about $34 million, and payments will balloon each year with a peak payment of $41 million in 2020, according to Associate Superintendent Paul O’Malley at an August board meeting.
That means that, unless the board makes drastic cuts to educational programs or refinances the district’s debt, yearly taxes in the Oswego School District will continue to increase for homeowners.
In an attempt to combat major tax increases in the short term, the district has made another $1.3 million in cuts to this year’s budget in operating expenses around the district. The budget passed also ends on a $200,000 surplus.
Still, Wendt and School Board President Bill Walsh said that schools will be in need of funds for curriculum expenses, particularly new textbooks, in upcoming years.
But school board members expressed anger and frustration at the situation, calling on administrators to make further cuts and to create a more long-term budget view.
“I think we are now number one in the whole country [in property tax rates],” said School Board member Greg O’Neil. “I believe we have to view it as the credit card’s maxed out. There is not more, and that’s how we’re going to have to look at it.”
The budget was passed 6-1, with O’Neil casting the dissenting vote.
“I’m not comfortable because I don’t know where we’re going from here. We have no financial trajectory ahead of us and that scares me, and I think it scares a lot of our taxpayers,” O’Neil said.